Disclaimer: This article was written in December 1994
and submitted to Dragon® Magazine for publication. They rejected
it so I am publishing it here. It contains references to names,
locations and concepts in the AD&D game, specifically in the
Forgotten Realms Campaign setting. This article is not intended
to challenge the status of any TSR trademark or copyright - alright?
My initial fears about finding our contact in among the many elves who frequenting the Elfstone Tavern were utterly unfounded. His exceptional height (for an elf), golden hair and bronze complexion picked the gold elf out from the rest. He turned in our direction as we clattered our way across the earthy-smelling taproom, and at once we were captivated by his eyes and smile.
"Welcome friends, I am pleased you were able to find me in amongst this rabble," he said jauntily, his voice a symphony. "Come, I have a booth reserved since our discussions will probably take some time. I understand you plan a trip south to that great city Calimport? Well you have come to the right person for information on that decadent city. I have visited it often and even lived there for a time, so I can tell you all you need to know about the city, its people and intrigues.
"The greatest difference you will find, coming from Waterdeep is the heat. Calimport is on the coast of the Shining Sea, bordered to the north by the Great Calim Desert. Even I found it unbearably hot and you, friends, with your heavy armour will have great difficulty should you persist in wearing it under that harsh sun. Few wear armour since heat-stroke is often a greater threat than a sword in that climate. Most of the citizens seek the cool shade at the hottest times of the day. The night is better, and much business is done when the rest of the world is sleeping.
"Now, what do you see on arriving in Calimport? Drink my friends and I will tell you more." His voice was hypnotic as he began to describe the city.
ARRIVING IN CALIMPORT
There are three routes into Calimport: the Trade Route across the desert from the north and the Eastern Caravan Route are two, but the most majestic, and easiest if travelling from the north, is by sea. Arriving by sea, the first thing that strikes you is the size of the city. The harbour itself is over three miles wide, the city extending for over a mile on either side. Approaching the harbour from the west, Palace Hill rises 300 feet above the rest of the city. Atop it, the Caliph's Palace dominates the western coastline. The Palace's golden minaret seems to flare in the morning sun and the five towers sheathed with mother-of-pearl shimmer with rainbow colours while the marble walls glow with an inner sheen.
At the foot of the cliff, directly below the palace is the high-walled barracks and shipyards of the mighty Calimport Armada. I have heard many say it is a prodigious fighting force. The Armada is segregated from the main harbour by high breakwaters. These are solidly built and protect the harbour both west and east, with two beacons to mark the entrance. Inside the harbour you are confronted by a forest of masts and rigging - a veritable armada of ships from all parts of Toril. You may notice a number of ship flying the gold and blue standard of Calimshan overlaid with an ornate 'H' rune. These mark Haldeman ships. I will speak more of Haldeman later.
The eastern side of the harbour is reserved for the many supply ships which bring in food to feed the huge population. There are also enormous commercial shipyards at the easternmost side. Beyond the breakwater to the east and well outside the normal shipping lanes is the ominously named Ship's Graveyard. Here, ships deemed too old or unseaworthy by their owners are abandoned and left to rot. A community has developed amongst them, scratching a living from salvage and whatever else comes their way. These are the Wrecksmen and are considered untrustworthy and degenerate even by the lowliest beggar in Calimport.
The dock quarter is segregated from the rest of the city by a thick wall pierced by six gateways. Nobody now knows why the Dock Wall is there - whether to keep the dock quarter separate from the city or to protect it from the city! The Dock Wall is very ancient, as are the huge gates. It would almost certainly be impossible to close them as they now appear rooted to the ground on which they stand.
Once in the city proper, you will discover the pleasure of listening to the local populace speak their native tongue. It is called Alzhedo and is an ancient language. It is almost as melodic as elvish, and is a flowing tongue with few hard consonants to break up the undulating rhythm. So much of the meaning comes from the nuance of intonation of each syllable that it is impossible to represent in written form, so all writings are in Common. This makes Alzhedo a very difficult language to master. Fortunately, most people also speak Common, although they may soften the consonants, so listen carefully.
Apart from Palace Hill in the west, the city is built over a second hill which rises steeply in the north east of the city and descends south until it becomes the hillocks of Halfling Shire. The summit of the hill is known as Rogues Prospect, named for the first thieves' guildhouse built in the history of the city. Nowadays there is a park at the summit and several inns and taverns around it. It is the highest point in the city, rising over four hundred feet, and provides a spectacular view over the narrow, hot, odorous and dusty streets.
The city is crowded - estimates put the population at two million. The residents include a wide spectrum of the races seen in the Realms and range from crushingly poor to fabulously wealthy. In many cities, you would normally find a segregation of rich and poor districts. In Calimport, however, the rich rub shoulders with hopeless poverty. Walking along a street one might wonder at the beauty and splendour of one mansion, turn a corner and be confronted by starving children with bloated bellies, mangy dogs skulking around putrid bodies covered with flies, desperate vicious fights breaking out over a scrap of meat or a rat caught in the filth of the gutter. Because of the climate, food is expensive, and water has to be hoarded carefully. While parts of Calimport beguile one with beauty and wonder, other parts will leave you heartbroken at the despair and hopelessness.
An important law in the city is one which forbids horses, camels or pack animals in most streets of the city. Only on a few major roads are they allowed. It makes sense as most roads are narrow and choked with people at most times of the day. Stabling is available in the outskirts and you can hire sedan chairs to move about the city. These are a common sight, carried by two or four dark-skinned, burly Chultean slaves. The Trade Route is the widest road in the city. It begins at the Gold Gate in the Dock Wall, passes through the huge Central Market in the middle of the city and continues north through the desert to Memnon and beyond.
The districts west of the Trade Route have fewer poor areas. These are the districts of the Temple and Learning Quarter. Here are the majestic buildings of temples, shrines, universities, libraries, guildhouses and public buildings. The southern section is dominated by Palace Hill where the Caliph's Palace and Government buildings are clustered. Most of the buildings in this quarter are vast and ornate, but there is one part I must mention as it holds a special significance for me. It is surrounded by high Shadowtop trees and within their border can be found tranquillity and peace. This is ElvenHaven. It is the centre of the elven community in Calimport and naturally, the slender towers and delicate architecture surpass all other constructions in Calimport. But then I would say that wouldn't I?
You may have pockets laden with Waterdhavian Dragons or Cormyrian Gold Lions, but you will find it impossible to spend them in the shops and taverns of Calimport. No foreign coinage will be accepted as legal currency in Calimport or elsewhere in Calimshan. The only accepted currency is that backed by the Calimshan government which consists of copper, silver and gold coloured metal tokens:
Copper: Unarche copper coloured coin 1/2" diameter Silver: Decarche silver coloured coin 1/2" diameter Electrum: Centarche silver coloured coin 3/4" diameter, hole in centre Gold: Bicenta gold coloured coin 3/4" diameter with hole in centre Platinum: Kilarche silver round cornered square coin 1" across
There are money changers all over the city open day and night, and the exchange rates are around 1.45 gp for one bicenta. Change your money back and you see why this arrangement is popular with the city since one bicenta will get you only 0.9 gp. A portion of the profit of these transactions goes to the city as an exchange tax. Needless to say this coinage is worthless anywhere outside Calimshan.
It is illegal for traders to accept foreign currency. Neither are gem-stones legal currency. Large sums of money usually exchange hands via a system of promissory notes which all the financial institutions in Calimport recognise and honour. It is a strange way to do business, but it works!
RULERS AND LAW
I've mentioned the Caliph's Palace, so I ought to explain who rules Calimport. The Caliph, Rashid Djenispool is the ruler of all Calimshan. He has been the Caliph for twenty seven years, and his family has been in power for more than fifty years.
The ruler of Calimport is the Caliph's eldest son, Punjor Djenispool. He is the Vizier of Calimport and is expected to become the next Caliph after his father. He is responsible for the rule of law in the city, as well as having control over the treasury. He is assisted by an inner circle of advisers hand picked from all walks of life in Calimport. It is fair to say that his choices have not always been entirely conventional, and his judgement in many things is not perfect - but then who's is?
One point you may be confused about - you may hear the title "Pasha" being used for important citizens and also used to refer to Caliph Djenispool. "The Pasha" is the Caliph, whereas the title "Pasha" is legitimately used by, for example, the leaders of the various city institutions, like Pasha Brandson.
Within the city, there are precincts called Drudaches - 145 of them. Each is led by a Druzir who is responsible for all that happens in his Drudache, from petitioning the treasury for money to repair roads, bridges and wells to collecting taxes, to hearing minor civil disputes which arise between his citizens.
All criminal complaints and serious civil disputes are heard by the Vizier's Courts. There are four large, imposing courthouses in the city, each with at least three judges in session at any time. Punishments can be severe - hanging for murder, rape, some serious assaults, major burglary and piracy. The courts are not totally impartial however. It is very much a case of who you know and how much money you have which determines the sentence - and sometimes even the verdict. There is a strong tradition of corruption at all levels of Calimport government.
There is a separate court which deals with crimes committed by slaves. The Slaves' Court deals with crimes ranging from pilfering to runaways to murder. Punishments are even more harsh - few criminal slaves survive the sentences handed out.
There are many other official institutions in Calimport, for example, the Church Council. It deals with any problems which may arise in dealings between the various temples, churches and faiths represented in the city.
There are also a great many trades guilds and associated bodies. Of these the most influential are the Magists Guild, the Guild of Harbourmen, the Welldiggers Guild and The Order of Slave Traders and Trainers. In addition, there are six other guilds which have an unhealthy influence over the city. These are the Thieves' Guilds. I should tell you more about these as their influence is widespread in Calimport.
THE THIEVES' GUILDS
It is a sad fact that these six guilds between them control a great deal of the wealth in Calimport. Their activities impinge upon every aspect of life in the city, but there is little effort made to lessen their influence. Most of the guilds have tried to carve out their own niche. Where their interests overlap, there tends to be conflict. The six and their major interests are, in order of influence:
Name Symbol Major interests Haldeman Elven 'H' Rune Smuggling, Slaves, Piracy, Forgery, Fence Purl Nine Spoked Wheel Information Broking, High Class Gambling and Prostitution, Spying Brandson Black Diamond High Class Gambling and Prostitution, Smuggling, Fence Revillo Black Dagger Assassination, Slaves, Fence, Blackmail, Spying, Prostitution Parvel Three Fingered Hand Street Operations: Mugging, Pick Pocket, Begging, Gambling, Prostitution, Fence Angaril Crossed Keys Street Crime, Protection, Burglary, Forgery
I'll tell you more about each guild and their interrelationships, beginning with the one I mentioned earlier:
Haldeman: It was founded over two hundred years ago by a pirate captain called "Red" Haldeman. He set up an association of pirate captains and expanded operations into smuggling. On his death, the guild came under the control of a ruling council of ex-pirate captains and that tradition has endured up to the present day. Guild Haldeman has factors and ships all round coastal Faerun and in many major inland cities. Most recently, it has opened up routes to Zakhara in the far south. It has, however, been unsuccessful in breaking into the pirate enclaves in the Sea of Fallen Stars so far. There is a major Haldeman presence beneath our feet in Skullport and I personally have seen a ship on which Haldeman was shipping a Deepspawn from Undermountain to goodness knows where! If you go to the harbour in Waterdeep you'll doubtless see a ship flying a standard with the 'H' rune of Haldeman.
Purl: Another guild which began several hundred years ago. Originally it was your average "steal, forge, whore" guild, but as time progressed enterprising leaders saw that there was a commodity more valuable than gold, jewels or contraband, namely Information. Purl's spy networks are alleged to be the most efficient in Faerun - they may even know we are having this conversation! To them, every piece of information has a value. They have a network of Information Brokers all over Calimport where you may go in and ask questions. Each piece of information has a price and you must pay before getting an answer. They do buy information and have a good reputation for valuations. As a sideline, they also publish a daily newspaper called GOLEMIC SCRIBES - so named because it is written each night by an array of multi-armed golems! It contains rumours, news, announcements and comments about things which happen in Calimport. It is a very useful publication, well worth the high price. Guild Purl is always very careful to remain neutral in any arguments between other guilds.
Brandson: Pasha Brandson is an enigmatic figure. He must be over 150 years old and many believe he is a Halfling or Half-Elf, although he appears human in public appearances. There are regular rumours concerning his death, all as yet unfounded. He has been building his guild for most of his life and it is one of the richest. He has smuggling interests in Chult and Maztica, has a large presence in Baldur's Gate and a smaller one in Waterdeep. His ships are seen as the only serious contender to Haldeman within Calimport. He has been reducing the less savoury activities of his guild and concentrating on the more acceptable Casinos and high class bordellos. His fence network is the best in the business, but beware, they drive a hard bargain!
Revillo: Pasha Revillo inherited the core of his guild about nine years ago when the former leader, Pasha Pook was murdered by a band from the north. Revillo was a retired assassin and built up that side of the business. During the Godswar, all his assassins died and his guild was decimated. He has struggled hard to rebuild it and succeeded well, diversifying into Slaves, Prostitution and Blackmail (these latter two going hand-in-hand you might say!).
Parvel: Pasha Parvel's main interests are in street-level crime: mugging, pick-pockets, street gambling, protection rackets and street-girls. His operations used to be more diversified, but he has had a run of bad luck in the last few years. Seven years ago, Pasha Parvel began a feud with Pasha Brandson which is only just now being settled. Before then, Parvel's spy network in the city was second only to Purl's. Overnight, though, it was compromised and destroyed. Parvel also lost control of the very profitable Eastern Caravan Route, which his agents had laboriously rebuilt after the magical upheavals of the Godswar. Haldeman was the benefactor but Parvel blamed his partner in the venture, Brandson. This is what many believe started their feud. At the moment, Parvel is the poorest of the guilds - the earlier prestige still counts a great deal though.
Angaril: The 'new' boy in town has succeeded in annoying virtually everyone. Pasha Angaril began life as an enforcer for Parvel, then broke away just after the Parvel/Brandson feud started, stealing Parvel's assassination and extortion operations. He then wiped out the leaders of an older, more established guild and took control of its lucrative bordellos. The prostitutes defected to Purl and Brandson and the older guild's fences joined Haldeman. Angaril has been rebuilding and forcing his way back by stepping on everyone's toes. Two years ago, Revillo masterminded a major assassination 'hit', which wiped out all of Angaril's prostitutes. Angaril responded by announcing war against Revillo, Brandson and Parvel. This has resulted in numerous clashes ever since.
Being a large city, there are a great variety of gods worshipped by the populace. The largest temples are found, of course, in the Temple and Learning Quarter and are devoted to Azuth, Tymora, Deneir and Selune. Elsewhere in the city there is a large and wealthy temple to Mask. Its location is secret, open only to members of the guilds or proven worshippers. There are two other large temples in Calimport devoted to home-grown deities: Bhaelros - a local version of Talos and Sharess, Goddess of lust, free love and sensual fulfilment. As befits the decadence of Calimport, Sharess has a large following - the Caliph of Calimshan is said to be a devoted worshipper. The Sharess temple near the harbour is a richly ornate palace of pleasure.
There is a scattering of smaller churches and temples around the city. Amongst these faiths can be found Torm, Lathander, Umberlee, Tyr and Loviatar. There are also temples to demihuman gods in the various non-human districts in the city: Corellon Larethian and Labelas Enoreth in ElvenHaven; Yollanda in Halfling Shire; Garl Glittergold and Urdlen in Gnome Mines; Moradin, Clageddin and Dugmaren Brightmantle in Dwarf Forge; Gruumsh in Orc Spit. The large number of Chulteans in Calimport mean their strange gods are also represented in the city. Recently, trade with Zakhara has brought new gods into the city, and there are several mosques being built to accommodate them.
The Church Council is a vital instrument in keeping the peace between the various religions. If it were not for them, there would have been open religious warfare in the streets of Calimport more than once. Its mediation has soothed several nasty disagreements and kept the peace.
There are five districts in Calimport where the non-human citizens have created communities of their own. Here they can feel free of the often unconscious prejudices of the human majority. I know I relish the peacefulness of ElvenHaven:
ElvenHaven: Population: 20,000. Surrounded by tall Shadowtop trees - usually found in more temperate climates but here sustained by magic. Somewhat clichd classical Elven architecture - all graceful crystal spires, glowing with Faerie Fire. There is an Undead Slayer Sage who makes his home here. Uliamber Koranthil does not go hunting undead anymore - he leaves that to the younger hotheads. He acts as the regional co-ordinator for the Undead Slayer Network. You didn't know they had such a thing? Ah well, you've learned more than you bargained for tonight! There is also a very ancient Elf who I know well. Vilherina is a priestess of the goddess Elistree who, in case you didn't know, is the goddess of good Drow. She's around 900 years old, but refuses to answer the call to Evermeet until Drow worshippers of Elistree can follow. That's a tricky one!
Halfling Shire: Population: 30,000. Artificially sculpted hillocks which house the Halfling burrows. Here is the only large agglomeration of Halflings in Calimshan. The city's best cooks and most wondrous cuisine can be found here - if you can find a table in the overcrowded restaurants! The best of these is surely The Steaming Platter. The cook is Brac Bristletoes a well travelled halfling who has only been there a year yet has earned an impressive reputation. Beware if he asks you about Red Dragons - he claims to have a recipe to cook one, and is looking for a supply of the main ingredient!
Dwarf Forge: Population: 25,000, but may be less. You know when you are in Dwarf Forge - the noise of hammer on metal is deafening. This is at the centre of the Artisan and Craft Quarter in the east of Calimport. The dwarves here do the finest metalwork seen in Calimport. The majority of dwarves are Shield Dwarves from the north, also known as Mountain Dwarves. There are, however, a small number of Gold Dwarves (or Hill Dwarves) from further south. These are even more disagreeable than their northern cousins. I've never had a civil word from a Gold Dwarf, yet I have no trouble dealing with Mountain dwarves - well, no more than one usually has! The air around Dwarf Forge is very polluted and many find it difficult to breath the foul fumes. There is a tradition among the priests of Moradin and Clageddin temples involving an annual challenge to show which are better. In recent years it has been known to get out of hand.
Gnome Mines: Population: 18,000. Built into the side of a cliff, Gnome Mines is the most spectacular of the non-human districts. Over 150 feet tall and half a mile long, the cliff forms part of what used to be a quarry in the early days of Calimport. When it closed, the Gnomish slaves were allowed to make their home in the cliff face and have been there ever since. The east facing cliff casts a long shadow over the streets at its foot from mid-afternoon onwards. This area is called Shadowland, and is a most inhospitable place. There is a community of Vampires who can start hunting in the late afternoon because of the unnatural darkness. The priests of Garl Glittergold have been at war with the vampires for some years. Gnome Mines is the most insular of the non-human communities, and sadly a strong streak of paranoia runs through its leaders.
Orc Spit: Population: 10,000. The most unpleasant of the five. It is home to the Orcs and Half-Orcs who work in the city. It is a smelly, foul place, with half-derelict shacks and animal-skin tents scattered in haphazard disarray. The City Watch do not come in here, so there is no law, except that of the jungle. I've never gone in there so I know little and don't wish to know more.
"Well my friends, I could tell you tales of Calimport all night but alas I must be elsewhere," the gold elf said, breaking the spell his voice had cast upon us by rising to his feet. "If you would like to hear more of Calimport I'll be passing through Waterdeep again in about a month. Just ask for Lassarail Goldmane."